Bioresin manufacturer NatureWorks LLC says the Taiwan government's plan to mandate recycling for bottles and containers made from polylactic acid is a directive that could help drive the recycling of products made from PLA in that country.
It is forward-thinking, said Steve Davies, director of communications and public affairs for the Minnetonka, Minn., firm, which makes nearly all the PLA sold globally at its plant in Blair, Neb. The Blair plant has a nameplate capacity of 300 million pounds.
The Taiwan plan sets the stage for recyclers to separate and recycle PLA in the country, Davies said.
But Huang Chien-Ming, president of Taiwanese PLA compounder and machinery maker Minima Technology Co. Ltd., believes that the Taiwan government should focus on building up the country's composting infrastructure, rather than trying to recycle PLA.
Stephen Shu-hung Shen, minister of the Taiwan Environmental Protection Administration, said Taiwan will officially list PLA containers as recyclable items by the end of November, and put into place arrangements for PLA recycling by March 1.
He said the agency will ask beverage and food manufacturers to clearly mark containers and bottles made from PLA.
This is a top-down government directive that would drive PLA recycling, said Davies in a phone interview.
A green policy adopted in Taiwan in 2003 placed restrictions on the type of disposable containers that could be used, but most non-plastic materials, including PLA, have been exempt from that directive.
There is only a limited amount of mechanical recycling of PLA today in Taiwan, including one such operation at NatureWorks' Taiwan distributor for non-fiber applications, Wei Mon Industry Co. Ltd. in Taipei, that is used to recover PLA material from its thermoforming partners.
Recycling of PLA has several challenges, because it looks identical to conventional plastics and it requires the use of expensive near-infrared technology or black-light marking to distinguish it at recycling stations.
Davies said Wei Mon supplies a network of more than 100 plastics converters in Taiwan and has very close relationships with six to 10 large converters.
Wei Mon is in discussions with those companies and with high-volume recyclers in each of Taiwan's counties on how to best recycle PLA, he said.
Estimates of the amount of PLA used in Taiwan widely vary, with NatureWorks estimating it to be 33 million pounds and the Taiwan EPA estimating it to be 33 billion pounds. Davies said two-thirds of the PLA containers made in Taiwan are exported to other countries, including the U.S.
Dan Sawyer, manager of Asia Pacific operations for NatureWorks, said brand owners globally are starting to take steps to clearly identify PLA containers.
Companies in the U.S. and Asia are beginning to use brown or green stripes on their packaging as a visual aid for recyclers, Sawyer said: There are some systems starting to develop because it is in the best interest of brand owners to have a simple scheme.
In addition, NatureWorks said it supports proposed changes by ASTM International to the plastics industry resin identification code that would create a separate category, number and recycling symbol for PLA.
Huang, meanwhile, said recycling PLA might cause problems with PET recycling because of the difficulty in separating the two materials.
Speaking at the EcoExpo Asia show in Hong Kong last month, Huang also argued that recycled PLA loses its properties quickly compared to traditional thermoplastics.
After the second recycling [cycle], the performance will decrease a lot for biodegradable materials, said Huang.
Davies said that NatureWorks believes there is room to both recycle and to compost products made from PLA.
Plastics News Asia bureau chief Steve Toloken contributed to this report.
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